We compiled some excellent lists of World War II fiction and non-fiction a while back, but one topic that wasn’t broached during those discussions was books about the war for younger readers. Ryo wrote in with a question that has spurred us to close that gap:
Im a Thirteen Year Old Boy who is interested in WW2. I like books where the character is actually in the war. Can you recommend few for me?
This is really a perfect question for a librarian, but not having one close at hand, I searched around and was able to find some great lists on the topic, specifically a pair of pdfs. One from Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces, New Mexico and another from Grand Rapids Public Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both offer up a wide selection of books to look into. Here are a few titles and descriptions from each list that seem like they might fit what Ryo is looking for.
- The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat – Originally published in 1951, “One of the classic naval adventure stories of World War II, Monsarrat’s novel tells the tale of two British ships trying to escape destruction by wolf pack U-boats hunting in the North Atlantic.”
- Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott – “In 1944, 19-year-old Hank is an American pilot flying his 15th bombing mission when his plane is shot down over Alsace, near the Swiss border. Locals assist him in getting to neutral territory. There, a Red Cross doctor advises him to attempt an escape from Europe across France with the help of the French Resistance. Hank’s many adventures as he makes his way toward home and freedom comprise the rest of the story. This is a gritty, unblinking look at the horrors that the Nazis visited upon France during the occupation.”
- Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes – “Parallel stories follow teenagers Spence Morgan, a farm boy from Utah, and Dieter Hedrick, a farm boy from Bavaria. Stirred by complex feelings of patriotism and adolescent insecurities, both young men find themselves fighting for their respective countries in World War II. The first part of the story follows Spence from his small-town life to the rigors of basic training as a paratrooper; Dieter has left his family in order to supervise other Hitler youth, digging trenches on the German border. Then suddenly, both teens are thrust into the chaos and carnage of the Battle of the Bulge.”
- A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer – “Adam Pelko has lived for only two weeks in Honolulu, where his father is an officer assigned to the USS Arizona in nearby Pearl Harbor. When he befriends Davi Mori, a high school classmate whose parents are Japanese, Adam’s rigid father forbids him to associate with Davi, fearing that the anti-Japanese sentiment so rampant on the island will tarnish the Pelko family and Lieutenant Pelko’s navy career. When his father is called back to the ship unexpectedly, Adam slips away from his house the following morning-December 7, 1941-to go fishing with Davi and another classmate. Rowing close to the fleet in Pearl Harbor, they witness the horrific Japanese air attack and are nearly killed themselves, their boat shot from beneath them by a low-flying fighter plane. Desperate to reach home and find out if his father is alive, Adam is spotted by an officer who mistakes him for a young enlisted man and orders him into action to help rescue survivors and restore order.”
- Soldier X by Don L. Wulffson – “Veteran and teacher Erik Brandt’s students deem him a hero, but he confides to readers that in WWII he fought for the Germans–not the Americans. He then flashes back to March 21, 1944, when at age 16, Erik, the son of a (deceased) German father and Russian mother, and a member of the Hitler Youth, boards a train bound for battle in Russia.”
Readers, if you have any other suggestions, let us know. Ryo, thanks for your question. Let us know if you read any of these.